We took advantage!
Mt. Elphinstone and Dakota Ridge on the Sunshine Coast received copious amounts of fluffy snow in December and January.
We took advantage!
It had been 3 years since I experienced the wild beauty of the outer west coast of Vancouver Island. It was time to return. And so, when we got our first glimpse of the ocean from the logging road (approximately 2 hours from Port Alice to Side Bay), I was ecstatic and could hardly contain my joy. We drove the jeep onto the wide gravel bar, and looked out to the sea all aglitter with light. The bay and beyond were dotted with rocky outcrops and treed islets. Gentle waves rolled over the rockweed and sea lettuce strewn shore.
August 16, 2015. We launched our kayaks into a stiff 15-20 knot wind that had not been apparent from shore. Yet the low swell allowed us to paddle relatively close to shore among the spray and foam of rock gardens. My heart was full, my body energized, my soul at peace. Lawn Pt. was only a short paddle away, but made a little longer by the headwind. We were both comfortable on the water, though I felt a little anxious when Henning yelled out to me that he needed to stop paddling to turn on the vibration for his seat. Henning’s ongoing inability to sit comfortably for extended periods of time due to problems with his periformis muscle, led him to hook up a motorcycle battery to a cushion with a control for providing heat and vibration. Yes, Henning was paddling the West Coast with a motorcycle battery behind his custom-made seat!
After a leisurely lunch at Lawn Pt. under the shade of a tarp, I attempted to walk into the forest to scout out a tent site. But I almost fell into a swamp – the tall marsh grass concealed the unevenness of the swampy forest floor and the extensive network of tree roots and stumps. This was no forest for bushwacking! We found a rudimentary trail through the 4 foot high salt marsh grass to access the next beach. The beach was littered with Japanese plastic fishing floats (gone are the days of the coveted glass ball finds) and other drift such as plastic laundry baskets and flip-flops – washed up from the tsunami? The low tide exposed a vast rocky reef that extended around Lawn Pt. It wasn’t hard to imagine this peaceful scene transformed at high tide and swell to one of dangerous surf and boomers (waves breaking over submerged rock). Back at camp, in the evening calm, the last glow of light appeared on the headland to the east and gradually the water turned icy blue. Solander, a large monolith, was visible to the south as we watched the sky and distant Brooks Peninsula become bathed in pinks and purples, a surreal world. I was mesmerized, watching the water gently lap onto shore. Then seven ducks surfaced before me, one at a time, swimming single-file along the water’s edge.
August 17, 2015. The morning was calm, the sea a velvety ice blue, as we departed for Heater Pt. Beds of smooth, shiny Nereocystis (bull kelp) sparkled and swayed in the low swell; water surged over boomers in the distance; massive red bladed algae were draped over rock. Gazing down into the kelp forest from above, I could see the seaweeds comprising the understory – a vibrant community of reds, pinks, olives, browns. We soon got into a paddling rhythm, the light breeze and low swell pushing us from behind; sunlight dancing on the water.
By afternoon we were relaxing in
the shade, looking out onto the
green waters of our picturesque bay,
and watching the antics of one sea
otter after another. I felt privileged
to watch them feeding so close by;
many were mothers with their pups
riding on their backs. I surmised
that a high-pitched squeaking sound
was that of a pup calling to its mom.
Strong northwest winds started blowing again. It was good to be off the water and protected from the cold wind. I couldn’t resist a quick refreshing swim before dinner.
August 18, 2015. The strong winds had continued to build through the evening and blew all night without any let up. I feared my tent would not withstand the onslaught! The morning brought another brilliant blue sky, but our camp was no longer wind-free. We breakfasted and watched from a sheltered spot Henning cleared in the woods as the whitecaps and surf moved into our bay. There was no question in our minds that we would stay off the water today. Gale winds, increasing to 40 knots, were forecast for northern Vancouver Island for the next few days. After initially feeling bummed about being weather-bound, I resolved to enjoy the beauty of this West Coast gem. Another good low tide provided the opportunity to explore the intertidal life inundating the rocky islets of our bay. I was fascinated all over again to meet my old friends: sea anemones (sporting rockweed fronds in their ‘mouth’ – surely an unusual occurrence?), Codium fragile or dead man’s fingers (a green seaweed), feather boa (a kelp), Leathesia or sea cauliflower (a brown algae), Mazzaella splendens (an iridescent red algae) and Pisaster ochraceus (ochre sea star) to name a few.
We decided to spend the afternoon exploring the beaches on the other side of the point that we’d briefly visited yesterday after dinner. The forest trail was carpeted with thick mats of moss that consumed old fallen trees. Massive cedars and spruce trees towered above us, while deer fern, bunchberry dogwood, salal, huckleberry and juvenile hemlock sprung up here and there, comprising the enchanting understory. The trail was, in fact,
an obstacle course: we climbed over
and under the abundance of fallen
trees, through the jumble of root systems and hollow trunks of dead giants. Even before emerging from
the forest, we heard the roar of the surf: big crashing waves swept over
rock masses sculpted and smoothed
into bizarre shapes; surge channels
and black sea stacks had been carved over time and waves pounded the sandy shore leaving behind perfectly round or oval, smooth polished stones. I couldn’t help myself from picking up one stone after another to roll between my fingers. At the far end of the second beach we discovered an enormous sea cave, open at both ends. I joked that you could stage one hell of a rock concert here. It was dimly lit, damp and cool and littered with dried seaweed and invertebrate shells and exoskeletons.
Back at our camp we found the wind to have intensified and frenzied whitecaps now surrounded us on two sides. Time to batten down the hatches and move the tent to a more sheltered site. We were lucky not to have a tent pole snap! We went to bed thinking about our options for the remainder of the trip, given a forecast that suggested a possible paddle day tomorrow but more big wind the following two days. If we made it south to Bonner Beach we’d be stuck there for two days and neither of us had been there before – would it be a nice place to hang out?
August 19, 2015. We awoke to calm water, but I feared we’d overslept to take advantage of the lull in the weather. Nonetheless, with the forecast unchanged, we decided to break camp and make this a paddle day. We could always assess the sea condition and our comfort level for the trip south once we left the quiet of our bay. We launched under two hours. Several otters bobbed in the water with their necks craned to send us on our way through thick buoyant mats of Macrocystis. We carefully eased our way between islets, watching for unsuspecting boomers, and immediately experienced the increased swell forecast for today as we hit open water. A big wave picked up my boat, and then another – the waves coming from behind were unsettling! And yet I felt reasonably sure that I could get use to the following seas. The waves weren’t too steep and there were few whitecaps. Soon I started to fall into a paddling rhythm. I ventured to look around and towards shore where the sea stacks towered, punctuated by sizeable sea caves, but each time I did a great big wave picked me up. It was a reminder to focus and to be forever vigilant scanning the horizon for boomers. The open ocean swell and the incessant roar of surf and intermittent boom of water forced into a blowhole or cave were exhilarating. It was like old times. Moving closer to shore to avoid a boomer, a big wave suddenly crested right in front of us. Suddenly everything was white and frothy and choppy all around us. Henning signaled for us to move offshore and to follow the sea foam. I held my breath until we were in less harried water.
We landed on Bonner Beach an hour after low tide. No problem. At high tide the beach was transformed to a surf beach that we wouldn’t have wanted to land on with full boats. Henning began constructing the kitchen and I leveled an area in the sand for the tent. Simple chores gave us such pleasure, as did lunching and resting with a view out to the rugged Brooks Peninsula. Rocky outcrops and treed islets partially shrouded in fog started at our bay and extended far into the distance. An eagle perched on a crag of an old wind-swept tree; a raven’s call echoed through the lichen-clad giant spruce and hemlock forest. Slowly the fog began to lift and let the sun through in time for another refreshing dip in the sea.
August 20, 2015. With 20-35 knot winds forecast, we opted for a lazy morning and a paddle in the calm waters of Klaskish Inlet. The inlet was peaceful and sunny and charming tiny islets were draped with an abundance of silken seaweeds – zonation was not very definitive in contrast to the open coast. As we approached the narrowing of the end of the inlet, it became apparent that the waves were breaking in the shallows. Henning was ahead of me and seemed to have avoided any difficulty. However, just as I arrived at the shallows, I looked behind me to see a large wave looming. I yelled to Henning, convinced I was going over, but somehow I managed to stay upright and surfed the wave! Henning was envious. The basin continued to narrow until we ran aground. The tide was too low for us to paddle up the river, so we had a snack break on the riverbed. On our return we met the full brunt of the inflow winds, slamming into our chests. Some of the gusts were so strong that I felt I didn’t have enough body mass to keep the wind from flipping my kayak over. It was a little tense.
August 21, 2015. We decided to stay another day in our wilderness paradise. Forecast northwest winds of 15-25 knots would have meant paddling into a stiff wind along a rugged coastline with no chance to pull out anywhere. Yet the calm morning beckoned to me, so I convinced Henning to go for a paddle over to Orchard Pt. on the Brooks Peninsula (and possibly to check out the BIG surf beach just beyond). The plan was to be back on shore before the wind started in earnest. It was a spectacular morning on the water: blue sky; the undulating sea shimmering; small islets on the horizon aglow and besieged by mounds of glistening sea spray. But we hadn’t gone far before we felt the wind pick up and the swell increase. At one point we took a path between two boomers, and found ourselves almost right on top of one of them, momentarily glimpsing the expansive submerged rock and frenzied water before the next wave hit to send sea spray flying in all directions. Our boats bounced around considerably in the choppy water, and I thought to myself “What the hell are we doing out here?” We’d only been out 40 minutes, but Henning agreed that it would be prudent to head back before the wind got any stronger. Just goes to show how deceiving it is to look at the sea state from shore and to assume the wind won’t develop until 11 am.
Back on shore the sun was just climbing above the trees to bring warmth to our beach. I made bannock for our morning tea and coffee and thought to myself that although it had been tense out on the water, I’d felt energized and was glad that we’d gone out. It takes a bit of nerve to paddle the exposed outer coast of Vancouver Island. I hope I never lose my nerve.
We vacated our beach and packed a lunch and reading material to spend the day at an adjacent beach that was more sheltered from the cold northwest wind. We found a nice spot to hang out in the shade of some giant spruce trees. I continue to be amazed by the size of the giant gnarly spruce trees and their ancestors lying on the forest floor covered in moss and those graying on the beach. We discovered a small stream ideal for washing and, of course, I had to go swimming in the ocean. How lucky we were to have these sandy beaches all to ourselves.
August 22, 2015. We got up in the dark, at 5 am, and launched by 6:45 am under overcast skies and smooth rounded waves. We hoped to get to Heater Pt. before the forecast winds arose. We quickly fell into a paddling rhythm, mesmerized by the motion of our boats rising and falling with the gently rolling sea and slicing through fields of sea foam. The sky began to lighten, streaked in shades of gray and amber, and the sun’s rays penetrated the clouds and danced on the sea surface. The low swell allowed us to paddle close to shore and ride
the rebounding waves and churned up aqua green water. This is always a thrill for me. We stopped at Heater Pt. for a quick snack and delighted in the antics of 20-30 sea otters. As we approached them, one by one they dove, arching their sleek backs out of the water resembling a porpoise. Paddling into Side Bay the roar of the open ocean surf gradually receded. Our west coast experience was quickly come to an end. On shore we spread out everything on the expansive gravel bar. Henning boiled water for tea and coffee and I made bannock to enjoy one last time whilst looking out to the open waters of our beloved west coast.